Hermia (Erin Petersen) has a problem with Lysander (James Cota) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, part of Intrepid Shakespeare Company's high-school tour.
What with his three drama Pulitzer prizes and nine Tony nominations (he’s scored the statuette three times, once for lifetime achievement), Edward Albee gets the popular nod as the greatest living American playwright. The thing is, that’s nowhere near the end of his expertise. He soaks up absolutely everything and anything about the visual arts, classical music, dance and poetry (the field in which he started), and he’s been doing that most of his 82 years. I know this because he told me to my face at an April 17 get-together in Rancho Santa Fe.
Albee visited a Fairbanks Ranch home to talk at an informal gathering about another of his passions—the importance of the arts in education. Wholesale slashes in school arts programs, he said, are turning the United States into a nation of “highly educated barbarians.” And although the San Diego Unified School District spared 2009-10 arts classes last June in addressing its then-$106-million deficit, cuts from years past had deeply affected those programs’ effectiveness.
For Albee, any loss of theater study is significant in at least one respect.
“There’s an immediacy to theater that you don’t get anywhere else,” he told CityBeat. “One of the differences between theater and movies is that movies [reflect] a past event. Even the movies themselves were made in the past. Theater is present, always being performed in the present. That makes it more accessible and thus more dangerous.”
As used here, “dangerous” is another word for “vital to the development of critical thinking,” the kind that ordinarily declares itself in high school. Albee would be glad to know, then, of an independent effort called Shakespeare for a New Generation, which launched its first tour of Bill’s plays with excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chula Vista High School on Friday, April 23. The group is the brainchild of San Diego’s Intrepid Shakespeare Company, which saw the need to fill a gap in public service—and for Intrepid artistic director Christy Yael, Shakespeare is the ideal central figure in the battle for students’ minds.
“Shakespeare,” Yael explained, “held the mirror up to nature. The problem is that Shakespeare was a playwright. Performance is the only way to make his study of the human condition hold up that mirror. And learning through art is often the thing that will keep students in school and continuing to learn. When their education is seen through the prism of art and not just math and science and testing, it absolutely affects, and hopefully changes, the often myopic view they have of society, of government and of humanity in general.”
The group is set to visit Rancho Bernardo High School on Thursday, April 29. It will visit 14 more schools through June 6 and will resume the tour in October.
Like Intrepid, Albee walks the talk. His visit was marked by a handful of sketches from Playwrights Project, that wonderful advocate for literacy through theater, which tours schools countywide and mounts a series of plays and readings by young writers every winter. In fact, Albee is the group’s artistic adviser and comes to San Diego regularly on its behalf. His iconic presence, last year’s budget reprieve and Intrepid’s splendid initiative are encouraging news at a most welcome time. At least for now, there’s more to local theater study, especially for students at such a pivotal age, than meets the eye.
Find Shakespeare for a New Generation at www.intrepidshakespeare.com. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.